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Signs of the time:artists confront Courtenay Place

NEWS RELEASE 3 December 2008

Signs of the time: artists confront Courtenay Place

Wellington’s popular party strip will face signs of a different kind when a new installation fills the Courtenay Place Park light boxes from Wednesday 17 December. Give us a sign, commissioned by City Gallery Wellington, features the work of seven prominent New Zealand artists and graphic designers. The exhibition will last for six months.

Senior Curator at City Gallery, Heather Galbraith, invited selected artists to ‘give us a sign; a message, a proclamation, a warning, a proposition or a way to make things better’.

“This resulted in a fascinating suite of new works, using text, drawing, and photography,” says Heather. “The works are all very different and include both optimistic and more melancholic responses.”

Wellingtonian Sarah Maxey has created two new works of hand-drawn text. I did this instead of going out acknowledges Courtenay Place and its side roads as ‘party central’. The painstaking quality of the pen-work alludes to hours of concentrating, labouring away and proposes a more domestic, solitary and introspective alternative to pounding the promenade or propping up a bar.

In 1969, Joseph Churchward founded Churchward International Typefaces which went on to become New Zealand’s largest typesetting firm. Now the Wellington typographer has collaborated with David Bennewith, a New Zealand designer based in Amsterdam, to make three works each using a font named after three of Churchward’s daughters; Georgina, Lorina and Maricia.

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Jim Speers’ contribution is repeated, three times. Taken from on board a ship, Big Sea depicts a wall of salt water bearing down on the vessel; a white foaming crest of the wave appearing where more typically sky would be visible. While the image reeks of danger it also alludes to survival.

Senior lecturer at Elam School of Fine Arts in Auckland, Gavin Hipkins has drawn together two components; illustrations of bible stories and embroidered patches, bringing a more epic tone to the series. The works reference some of the momentous events in the life of Christ and the legacy of Russian artist Kazimir Malevich (1878-1935).

Stanley Nives (the pseudonym Kelvin Soh is operating under for this project) has contributed two works – using bright colours juxtaposed with hand-drawn darker phrases such as ‘Too much too soon too little too late’, and black and white images of flooded areas of housing.

Meanwhile, Kate Newby, through one of her three photographs where glimmering sunlight shines through pinned-up dyed cotton fabric, urges us to ‘Try! Try! Try!’.

Heather says the collective body of signs are to be mulled over by passers by and ‘drive-by’ viewers.

“The possibilities mooted here lean more towards the poetic than the pragmatic, which is perhaps telling given the challenging economic and ecological climate we are all facing today,” she says.

David Bennewith, Joseph Churchward, Sarah Maxey and Kelvin Soh will have their work profiled at TYPESHED11, the international typography conference taking place in Wellington from 11-15 February 2009. See www.typeshed11.co.nz for more details.

The Courtenay Place light boxes were installed earlier this year with the completion of Courtenay Place Park and are managed by the Council’s Public Art Panel.


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